Mobilize March -- Travel Blog

Day 16 — Finding our voice

I enjoyed the bed in our hotel room a bit too much this morning, sleeping in far longer than I had intended. Waking up after 10am, I knew I had to get down to work right away. My first job of the day was to contact Leeanna Pendergrast’s office to confirm plans for Monday at Queens Park. Unfortunately, things are still in flux there–hopefully we’ll have a confirmation by tomorrow. Afterwards, I made a call to the local Shoppers Home Healthcare and set up a service appointment for the chair. I’m hopeful they’ll be able to lock down whatever was wrong with the chair on our run from Guelph to Hamilton–at the very least, I’m sure it could use a bit of grease and tunin’ up. As it turns out, their shop is LITERALLY down the street from our hotel…how perfect is that? Totally unplanned, I swear.

The real objective today was to get ready for the TTC ACAT information meeting, which was held at the CNIB Office on Bayview. I was a little nervous heading into this meeting, not knowing how many supporters would show up from the community. Astonishingly, the house was PACKED. We had to wait about 15 minutes just trying to get IN to the meeting, as the entire entrance was blocked with about 8 or 9 full Wheeltrans busses dropping off local patrons anxious to voice their opinions. By very rough approximations, I’d say there had to be over 300 people there representing very diverse age, class, and disability groups. The turnout was absolutely spectacular.

So the meeting started off with a self congratulatory presentation by the TTC about how they’re doing some really great things for the disabled around the community. To be fair, some of the changes the TTC are planning are quite impressive, including a projection that they will be providing fully accessible services (bus, subway and street car) by 2020–a full 5 years before full inclusion is mandated by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, for those keeping score. Although quite informative, this section of the presentation took almost a full hour, occupying half of the time this “public forum” was scheduled to be run. Also, organizers had problem reaching the audience because of a lack of certain accessibility accommodations, namely closed captioning, along with a troublesome and tough to hear microphone. However, after laying out their strategy to become accessible, nearly an hour, it was finally time for the citizens who USE the service to have their say…and boy oh boy did they ever!

By the time the first question was asked, I half expected a full revolt. All I could picture was a giant rush of walkers, wheelchairs, and canes to flooding to the front of the room, thirsty for blood, and when the skirmish was done all that would remain would be the skeletons of the TTC managers who were running the meeting. One of our strongest champions, David Lepofsky, delivered a scathing attack on the powers that be at the TTC, criticizing them for spending almost half a million dollars in legal fees attempting to fight the implementation of accessible transportation, including but not limited to, attempting to stifle the public forum held tonight, which they claimed to be “unnecessary.” For more information on Lepofsky and his fight with the TTC, check out this article from the Toronto Star: here. The rest of the evening was story after story of people who had been left behind, denied access, and generally screwed over by the lack of accessible transportation.

It came to me during this meeting that what we really need, more than extra funding and more accessible busses, is a paradigm shift on how we think about accessible transportation in our communities. Currently, I believe accessible transportation is considered a luxury item provided by the gracious able-bodied, dripping in pejorative paternalism. I feel like the able-bodied providers see this as being something they are doing out of the kindness of their own hearts to help the poor cripples of their community and we should be thankful that they’re even willing to share some scraps from the big-boys table at all! So yes, the system isn’t perfect, but at least there is a system, right? Well, I for one am tired of licking their plates clean and I can safely assume that the +300 people at the meeting tonight were not satisfied with the scraps either.

What we need is a refocusing and shifting of the perspectives on accessible transportation. Instead of designing a system that forces us to fit within the structure, we must create structures that accommodate our needs. Where is the justice in a system that considers rider “late” if they are not at the curb within 5 minutes of pickup and yet the ride is not considered late until 20 minutes after the scheduled pick-up window? Which is another thing, pick-up “windows”? How many transportation systems in the able-bodied world force riders to be available for pickup between a 30-minute pickup window? It is absolutely ludicrous that we expect, nay, FORCE, disabled riders to make themselves available 30-minutes before a ride will show up and yet accuse them of being radicals and dissidents if they are 6 minutes late!

When all is said and done, despite taking a bitterly fought law suit to bring about change, the TTC does appear to be heading in the right direction. Having said that, my recommendation for the TTC in evolving and establishing permanent accessible solutions in Toronto, rather than simply putting money into the system is to design systems that meet the needs of your riders, do not require your riders to meet the needs of your system.

All we ask is to be treated with a little dignity!

– Jeff

By Jeffrey Preston

Born with a rare neuromuscular myopathy, Jeff has spent his life dedicated to advocating for himself and others with disabilities. With a PhD in Media Studies from Western University, Jeff's research focuses on the representation of disability in popular and digital culture. Jeff is currently an Assistant Professor of Disability Studies at King's University College @ Western University in London, ON.